Managing Panic Attacks When You Have COPD

3 Min Read

Many sufferers are aware that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is associated with very high levels of anxiety. Many people who suffer from anxiety also suffer from panic attacks, with some studies showing that 60% of people with COPD suffer from panic attacks at least every 6 months. Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear which are accompanied by physical symptoms. One of the physical symptoms of panic attacks is breathlessness, which is also a symptom of COPD, and these symptoms can be interlinked and also cause one another.

The top 5 things to remember about panic attacks are:

Read this to yourself a few times until you can remember it.

  1. A person cannot die from a panic attack (it just feels like that at the time and leads us to believe that).
  2. Panic only lasts a short time as eventually the body’s adrenaline wears off.
  3. Panic does not damage the lungs in COPD.
  4. It is possible to control breathlessness and panic.
  5. Panic is not a sign of being mad or being weak or that COPD is getting worse.

What does a COPD and a panic attack feel like?

Symptoms of panic attacks include:

  • Sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Sudden claustrophobia
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Sudden chills or hot flashes
  • Dizziness and fainting

Fortunately there, are things you can do to overcome panic attacks when they occur.

Breathing Exercises

Often described as "taking your breath away," a COPD panic attack can make you feel like you are suffocating, hyperventilating, or choking. That's why it is extremely important when you recognize the sensation of panic, you begin to focus on your breathing. If you can control your breathing during a panic attack, you can usually get through it in a relatively short period of time.

When you get short of breath, you may find you automatically use your shoulders, neck and upper chest muscles. Using these muscles is not helpful and can make breathing feel worse.  The shoulders, neck and upper chest muscles are not designed to work for long periods of time and get tired easily.  Overworking these muscles requires more oxygen which can make people feel more out of breath and lead to tense muscles.

It is also natural to breathe faster when short of breath; however, this also makes breathlessness feel worse.  This is because it takes more effort to breathe air in quickly. It also means the air does not get deep enough to make the most of each breath as it does not reach the alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs.

So breathing slowly and deeply using the lower chest or diaphragm is the most effective way to breathe.

Try this:

Relax your shoulders down. As you breathe in, feel your stomach go out (like a balloon inflating) as you are drawing the air down into your stomach. As you breathe out, feel your stomach go in again (like a balloon deflating).

As you breathe in count 1 and 2 and as you breathe out count 1 and 2 and 3.  Focus on the out breath being longer. Say to yourself “I am relaxed”, “I am calm”. As you breathe out use pursed lips (like breathing through a straw).

Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth (nose breathing moistens the air and acts as a filter before the air reaches the lungs).

With each out-breath, look out for any change in the tension in your body. You might notice your arms and legs feeling more relaxed, or any tightness in your chest easing, or a feeling of calm in your body. Keep practicing this technique at different times during the day, both when feeling short of breath and when feeling relaxed.

Mindfulness Meditation

Research suggests that mindfulness meditation―a practice dedicated to focusing your mind on the present―can help treat anxiety disorders as well as relieve stress.

Relaxation is an important part of reducing anxiety levels and preventing panic attacks. In some instances, practicing relaxation techniques may help you manage a panic attack that has already begun. Chief among them is the daily practice of mindfulness meditation. It is an effective technique used in many clinical situations.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry concluded that an eight-week course of mindfulness meditation reduced acute episodes of panic in 93 people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Support Groups

Support groups may be a useful part of managing COPD and panic attacks because they let you know that you are not alone. They can also help you find new ways to deal with anxiety, panic, and COPD. COPD support groups can be found in many places. Read about how to find your support group here.

Lifestyle Changes

Taking steps to reduce stress and improve your overall health may help reduce the incidence of panic attacks. For example, getting plenty of sleep and staying physically active may help lower your stress levels. Stress management techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, may also help. It’s also important to avoid or limit your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and illegal drugs.

What is the outlook for panic attacks?

If left untreated, recurrent panic attacks may lead you to:

  • feel anxiety when you think about the possibility of another panic attack
  • avoid other people or public places for fear of experiencing a panic attack
  • develop agoraphobia, an intense fear of being in public places

To avoid these complications, it’s important to seek treatment for panic attacks.

Filter is a digital therapy that monitors your COPD and provides a personalized program to help you improve your mental health and well-being. Filter can help you to manage your panic attacks through a range of therapies based on your symptoms. Click here to download our mobile app for free. 80% of our user reduce anxiety toward their COPD after 30 days.

How can panic attacks be prevented?

Most panic attacks are unpredictable. As a result, preventing them can be challenging.

But you can take some steps to enhance your overall well-being and lower your risk of panic attacks. For example, it’s important to lead an overall healthy lifestyle by:

  • eating a well-balanced diet
  • exercising regularly
  • getting enough sleep
  • taking steps to reduce stress

It’s also important to seek help from your doctor if you experience a panic attack. Getting treatment may help you avoid more panic attacks in the future.

A Word From Filter

The psychological symptoms associated with COPD are often overlooked but are very serious and some people actually think they are worse than the physical symptoms associated with the disease.

To get the most of the techniques mentioned above, practice them on a regular basis, don't wait until you are in the middle of a panic attack to try and remember how to do them. Practicing these techniques several times a day, every day, will help you easily recall them during a panic attack when you need them the most.

Although panic attacks are actually harmless, it is very important to realize the differences between breathlessness from a panic attack and a COPD exacerbation. If you have a worsening cough or increase in phlegm along with breathlessness, you should consult your healthcare provider as soon as possible.



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